STRATFORD AC teenager Georgie Campbell claimed her first Midlands Cross Country Championships title after an impressive performance at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough, writes Paul Hawkins.
Campbell took gold in the women’s under 17s race and there was also a silver medal for Alex Adams in the boys’ U15s. At the other end of the age spectrum, Phil Brennan was Stratford’s other winner in the masters race.
The Midlands Championships represents a step up in both distance and class for Stratford’s athletes and the course was a true test with plenty of mud.
The highlight for Stratford was Campbell’s performance in the U17 women’s race held over a 5km lap.
A group of three soon opened up a lead at the front with Campbell featuring along with regular rival Ella Semple of Birchfield and Kaitlyn Sheppard from Cheltenham. Semple dropped back after 1,500m, leaving Sheppard and Campbell side by side for much of the race.
At the start of the final hill with 300m to go, Campbell made her move and powered away to quickly open up a decisive lead, finally winning by 10 seconds in 16 minutes, 49 seconds.
Stratford team-mate Ellen Taylor continued her return to form to claim a fine 29th place.
Adams, who won the U13 boys’ title in 2019, has been unbeaten this season in the under 15 age group. Despite being one of the youngest in the 4km race, Adams was confident and always in contention as the leading group was gradually whittled down to Adams and Daniel Galloway of Telford. Eventually Galloway proved too strong over the final 400m but Adams should be delighted with his silver medal in 11:54.
Adams was supported by a strong Stratford team in the age group with Theo Skirvin running well again (63rd, 13:55), closely followed by Adam Taylor (71st, 14:01), Taylor Stubbins (76th, 14:10) and Joe Warner (106th, 15:24).
The final top ten Stratford finisher was Charly Marshall who was the only Stratford U15 girl following injuries. Running over the same 4km course as the boys, Marshall was always near the front of the field and ultimately finished ninth in 14:03 in a blanket finish with three seconds separating three girls.
Stratford fielded strong teams across the age groups with a number of eye-catching performances.
In the under 13 girls over a 3km one-lap course, Maddie Linfoot led the Stratford team home in 21st (10:52) and was followed by Niamh Hillard (29th, 11:08) returning from injury.
Next for Stratford was another impressive run from U11 Tessa Parkin (39th, 11:19), Caitlin Boyle (63rd, 11:43) and another U11 Annie Silvers (68th, 11:55). Martha Peters (72nd, 12:02) and Tilly Campbell (98th, 12:34) both had good runs to complete the team who just missed out on team medals in fourth place.
Taking on their elders
Tessa and Annie who will both have another two years in this age group will particularly have gained a lot from the experience of racing at this level.
Similarly, in the U13 boys’ race Max Verstaeten (50th, 10:45) is an U11 who was racing out of his age group and was delighted to be first home for the team. Joe Lewis (67th, 10:59) had his strongest race so far this season and was followed by James Day (75th, 11:07), Seb Hillard (89th, 11:18) and Flynn Dathan (105th, 11:42) to claim a fine 13th-placed team.
In the U17 men’s race over 6km, James Mucklow (42nd, 23:42) had a strong, even-paced run and was closely followed by Ned Campbell (50th, 24:11) who seems to make massive strides forward with each race.
Josh Dobedoe (56th, 24:24) paced the race well, moving through the field in the latter part of the race to clinch a good position. Finishing the team, Fin Hutchinson (69th, 28:17) struggled after being ill all week but was determined not to let the team down and was rewarded with a good sixth team place.
Daisy Musk was Stratford’s only U20 woman and was delighted to take a top 20 position with a time of 29:14 over the 6km course.
In the senior women’s race, Cadie Hibberd exceeded her expectations to come 21st in 32:55 over the 8km race.
Sophie Dobedoe (62nd, 36:02) also continued her good season, while Emma Bexson (83rd, 38:12) battled well. Vicky Sharpe (90th, 38:43) is in her first season racing in the Stratford team and has improved with each race.
The final Stratford team member was Liuba Pasa (154th, 43:45) who found the clinging mud tough going but did well to help the team to 11th place, just missing out on their top ten target.
The Midland Masters Cross Country Championships was incorporated into the event and the older age groups raced over a two-lap 8km distance which certainly seemed to suit Brennan who won a superb gold medal in a time of 42:55.
In the senior men’s 12km, run over three laps, Stratford had five athletes racing which disappointingly meant they were unable to complete a team.
The first back for Stratford was Tim Hutchinson finishing 113th in a time of 46:13, followed by John Raby (141st, 48:08) in his first year of competing for Stratford.
Malcolm Bowyer was 204th in 51.14 ( fourth in his age group) and completing the runners were David Smyth (214th, 51.42) and James Deacon (361st, 72:13).
This was an excellent day for the Stratford team who will now focus on their final league races of the season in mid-February, followed by the National Championships at the end of the month.